Oscars Flashback: All Hell Broke Loose When 'Exorcist' Was Snubbed in 1974
William Peter Blatty won for best adapted screenplay, but let loose with a diatribe after the ceremony because the movie didn't get more major awards.
Oscar history is replete with sore losers: Eddie Murphy immediately exiting the theater in 2007 after losing for supporting actor in Dreamgirls. Bette Davis coldly watching Joan Crawford in 1963 accept on Anne Bancroft’s behalf. The close-up on Sylvester Stallone’s shattered face after not getting the supporting actor statuette in 2016 for Creed. Unhappy winners, however, are a much shorter list.
Topping it is the Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty. In 1974, the William Friedkin-directed film had received 10 nominations but won only sound mixing and adapted screenplay. (The Sting also had 10 noms but won seven, including best picture and director.) The day after the NBC telecast, Blatty, who had adapted his own best-selling novel, let loose with a diatribe that THR put atop its front page.
The writer, who died in 2017 at age 89, said it was a “disgrace” that more major awards didn’t go to The Exorcist. He felt his movie was “head and shoulders, the finest film made this year and in many other years.”
He specifically singled out legendary director George Cukor for leading a campaign against the film because he didn’t feel a horror movie was up to best picture standards. “Since I won an award, perhaps it would be considered ungracious,” Blatty conceded to THR about his complaining. “But I’d rather be ungracious than be a hypocrite."
Of course, The Exorcist had non-Oscar-related reasons to celebrate. The $12 million Warner Bros. production went on to gross $193 million in 1973 (just over $1 billion today) and more over the years from reissues.
Looking back, Friedkin, 82, says he interprets Blatty’s remarks as “rooting for the home team” and adds that he personally doesn’t believe “any film is ‘best.’"
But he’s no detractor of the Academy Awards. “The Oscars are the greatest promotion any industry ever devised for itself,” says the director, who won the directing prize for 1971’s The French Connection and produced the 1977 Oscars telecast. “The auto industry could only dream of having something this good.”
As for the Academy’s aversion to horror, it has a chance to get over it with this year’s Get Out, nominated four times.
This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.